Ireland: Establishment parties hit a wall of anger

Political crisis looms

Here we publish an article posted originally on the Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) website, following our party’s successful campaign which saw 3 CWI members – Paul Murphy, Ruth Coppinger and Mick Barry – elected to the Irish parliament.

As part of the Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA), Paul, Ruth and Mick will sit in a joint parliamentary grouping of the socialist Left, together with 3 TDs (MPs) from the People Before Profit Alliance, which will operate on the basis of parity in the assignment of speaking and other parliamentary rights. This grouping will fight for full speaking rights and recognition in the new, more fragmented Irish parliament.

“It is clear that, as James Connolly said a hundred years ago: “the day has passed for patching up the capitalist system; it must go”. We need democratic public control and ownership of wealth and resources if society is to be run for people’s needs, not profit.”

These were the words of Socialist Party (CWI) member and Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) TD Ruth Coppinger in her powerful speech (see full transcript below) proposing socialist Richard Boyd Barrett for the position of Taoiseach in the 32nd Dáil. It was the AAA and SP who came up with the idea of nominating a socialist candidate to highlight the need for an independent left in the newly elected parliament.

Like of all the candidates who were nominated, there was little chance of Boyd Barrett winning. The failure to elect a Taoiseach will give way to weeks of horse trading between the main parties which will most likely lead to some class of arrangement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in terms of government formation.

Two & a half party system

The election delivered a resounding rejection of the outgoing Fine Gael/Labour government. Its campaign slogan of ‘keep the recovery going’ backfired spectacularly with the vast majority of people. Senior Fine Gael ministers most associated with an unsympathetic, right wing agenda, such as Alan Shatter and James Reilly, lost seats.

The traditional two and a half party system is now ended. For Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – the two traditional parties of capitalism – to poll below 50% between them, confirms this. In all, the three main parties of the establishment received 56% of the vote. This decline in support mirrors a similar process in many European countries of the drastic undermining of those parties associated with the implementation of austerity.

Fine Gael modelled its campaign on that of the Tories during the British election of May last year hoping to emulate their successes and return to power. In the context of a growing housing crisis, rising rents, mortgage debt and 500 people waiting on hospital trollies across the state in January, the idea that they constituted stability as opposed to the “chaos” of a potential government without them gained little traction. If anything, like their constant talk of recovery, it proved to be counterproductive.

While Fianna Fáil recovered ground, it’s still their second worst election ever, remaining under 25%, while only a decade ago it was on 40%. There were two factors that counted for the increase in support for the party. Many traditional Fianna Fáil voters who “lent” their votes to Fine Gael in the last election switched back to Fianna Fáil, thus resulting in a decline in the vote of the former.

They also sought to portray a superficially “social democratic” image in the election with Míchael Martin talking of the unequal nature of the recovery and the need for investment in public services. The cynicism of such an approach should be lost on no one, however in a distorted way Fianna Fáil’s vote partially reflects an opposition to neo-liberalism which they had helped to champion while in power.

For the Labour Party, it’s been a disastrous election, with both the Party leader and deputy leader scraping the last seats in their respective constituencies. Labour got most punishment for its betrayals and is reduced to seven seats, down from the 37 seats they received in the “Gilmore Gale” of the 2011 general election. In percentage terms their vote fell from 19.4% in 2011 to 6.6%. Their demise has put on the agenda the need to build a real left that breaks with the logic of austerity and capitalism.

While some results are contrary, in general there is a continued left trend in society. Renua, the right wing neo-liberal party, heavily promoted and encouraged by the establishment media, was routed out of existence!

Sinn Féin moves to the right

Sinn Fein has gained nine additional seats, but at 13.8% of the vote (increasing their vote from the 9.9% they received in 2011), they have not had the decisive breakthrough indicated some months ago. Throughout the campaign, they verbalised the anger felt by those who’ve suffered under austerity, but accepted the economic parameters of the establishment and proposed quite minimal reforms.

Their manifesto only called for a 50c increase in the minimum wage and for 100,000 council homes to build to be built by 2030 despite the fact that there are 130,000 currently on housing waiting lists. In the debate around the fiscal space they were keen to emphasise their “responsible” nature to the capitalist establishment only calling for a reversal of 20% of the austerity measures implemented since 2009 over the lifetime of the next government.

They made no mention of progressive taxation or pursuing the vast profits of multinationals, including the €17 billion in unpaid taxes owed by Apple to the Irish state. This moderation in their approach meant that Sinn Féin failed to inspire an increasingly leftward moving and anti-establishment working class electorate.

The AAA was willing to put forward a radical programme for change and argued during the election for a new party of the working class to replace the discredited pro-austerity, Labour Party that would fight for a left government. In the first leaflet we produced we said:

“Labour is no longer the party of Connolly, Larkin or working people. None of the main parties represent us. Unfortunately Sinn Féin seem prepared to bring Fianna Fáil and Labour back to power.

The AAA stands for the establishment of a new political movement of working people.

After the election, the AAA will discuss with others to see if a genuine Left government that will run society for people’s needs not profit can be formed.”


For the Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit platform, a doubling of constituency representation to six seats and receiving 3.9% of the national vote is a good result. Unfortunately the AAA narrowly missed out on winning a seat in Limerick City, where Socialist Party member Cian Prendiville came within 278 votes of beating Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan. As well as seeing the re-election of the Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy, the AAA got its first TD elected outside of Dublin in Cork North Central with the election of Socialist Party member Mick Barry. Being able to make this breakthrough in the second largest city in the state is an important victory for the AAA.

In the 13 constituencies in which it stood, the AAA received an average of 6% of the vote and gained respectable votes even in areas where we ran more limited campaigns and stood candidates for the first time. Diana O’Dwyer, standing in Dublin Central, and Fiona Ryan, standing in Cork South Central, received 721 (3%) and 937 (1.7%) first preference votes respectively.

Both these campaigns made repealing the 8th amendment and legislating for a woman’s right to choose central issues and featured these demands on all their election posters. These votes reflect the growing desire for abortion rights in Ireland. An opinion poll carried out by the Irish Times in the week running up the election found that 64% wanted the eighth amendment repealed, and a more recent Amnesty/Red C poll has found that 73% want a referendum.

Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael Grand coalition?

There is a certain pressure on Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to set aside their non-existent differences and form a government. But this isn’t wanted by them or by a large section of the establishment who fear the growth of the left or Sinn Féin arising from such an unprecedented coalition. But if it happened and if such a government continued austerity in the same manner, there would undoubtedly be a backlash from workers and those effected.

If no agreement can be found between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael it is not ruled out that the former may seek to form a coalition based around itself, Sinn Féin and other smaller parties and independents.

Build the boycott

The issue of water charges has to be dealt with by whatever government that comes to power. Fianna Fáil promised to ‘abolish Irish Water’ and would be under pressure to suspend water charges. Even Fine Gael can’t just plough ahead with the deeply unpopular fiasco. The election results are an encouragement to the boycott campaign. The anti -water charges movement should mobilise to demand the incoming government abolish water charges. A victory could be won on this issue.

The very talk of abolition of the charges has given an impetus to many to boycott the water charges with reports of many cancelling their direct debits to Irish Water. The Socialist Party and the AAA has argued from the outset, in contradistinction to Sinn Féin, that mass non-payment is critical to defeating the charges. There is now a real chance to defend and significantly extend this boycott and deliver a knock blow to the charge regardless of the intentions of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, should they come to a governmental arrangement.

That could empower other movements to challenge on other issues such as cuts, low pay etc. The resilience displayed by Luas drivers in their industrial action is an indication of a potential for new battles to develop in the workplace as the desire for workers to receive a real share of the recovery they have helped to create increases.

Aspiration for real change

The aspiration of people is for change. That hasn’t been fully reflected in the election results, however. Aside from voting, it’s necessary for people to become active and involved in politics and on political issues. This only partially happened with the anti-water charges movement and the marriage equality referendum. We need a new party to replace Labour that will reflect the aspirations for real change and one that will involve working class people in political activity. All who are genuinely on the left should have a place in that party.

The Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit enhanced Dáil grouping can play a decisive role on the left in the new Dáil, arguing its own independent positions, for independence of the left and for the wealth in society to be harnessed through socialist policies to demand all austerity is now ended. By nominating a candidate for Taoiseach, AAA-PBP has sought to emphasise the need for a left that is independent of those parties, including Sinn Féin, that are supporters of the capitalist system.

The group can press to abolish unfair austerity charges and taxes, implement a public home-building programme and reinvest in public services. It can also be a leading force for social progress and Repeal of the 8th Amendment. It should also seek to win popular support for the wealth and resources of society to be brought into democratic public ownership so that the needs of the majority can be met through a socialist planning of the economy.

The Socialist Party will continue to work inside the AAA and the new left Dáil grouping as part of the fight for a left government in this country. Our members Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy and Mick Barry will support and give a voice to the key battles confronting workers, young people and women in Irish society as well arguing the need for a socialist alternative to Ireland’s rotten capitalist establishment.

Transcript of speech given by Ruth Coppinger TD nominating Richard Boyd Barrett TDl for position of Taoiseach:

The Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit group of Deputies would like to propose a socialist nominee for Taoiseach, and we propose Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett. As we approach the centenary of the Rising, about which we will hear a lot over the next number of weeks, it is clear that we live in a very unjust society, where vast wealth is concentrated in the hands of a tiny few while the majority have seen their living standards plummet. A crisis rages in health and housing, and an attempt is being made to turn water into a commodity capable of being privatised and fetching a profit. To this day, the church remains entangled with the State and women are denied their civil rights on abortion. It is clear that, as James Connolly said a hundred years ago: “the day has passed for patching up the capitalist system; it must go”. We need democratic public control and ownership of wealth and resources if society is to be run for people’s needs, not profit. We need a separation of church and State. Today, we will not vote for the identical twin candidates of the two parties that imposed austerity in this country, nor can we endorse the candidate of a party that is claiming to be the friend of ordinary people while implementing austerity in the North and which is based on one side of the community. All three candidates who have been proposed accept the crumbs of the fiscal space and thus cannot deliver the real change that is needed by the majority in society. We need the immediate abolition of the water charges, which were clearly rejected by the majority of the electorate, and we support and call for an extension of the boycott to make sure those charges are finished off while the two parties dither over whether they will carry out abolition. Neither can we wait any longer for a State-backed housing programme to deal with the housing emergency and for NAMA to be declared an agency for affordable housing, which the previous Government refused to do. We need to end the 32-year hypocrisy of the eighth amendment to the Constitution and allow women to make this decision for themselves in all cases, not just a few. To fund our public services, we need to end the use of our country as a tax haven and to take control of the wealth of the 1%. James Connolly wanted to change the system, and we agree with him. Sixteen days before the Rising, Connolly outlined who will change Ireland, and in whose interests, when he said in the pages of The Workers’ Republic:

“Not the rack-renting, slum-owning landlord; not the sweating, profit-grinding capitalist; not the sleek and oily lawyer; not the prostitute pressman – the hired liars of the enemy. Not these are the Irish upon whom the future depends. Not these, but the Irish working class, the only secure foundation upon which a free nation can be reared.”

The candidates of the socialist left will not win the position of Taoiseach today but, in standing, we are making a declaration of intent in this Dáil. We intend to have a strong, independent voice for workers in this Dáil. We invite everybody who wants real change in this country to get involved in the political process and to join with us to help build a new mass party for working people in this country in order to finally replace the thoroughly discredited and compromised Labour Party, a party of working people for working people and for a society ruled and run by working people in the interests of the majority. To this end, I propose Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett for the position of Taoiseach in the 32nd Dáil.

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March 2016